Suffolk Libraries chief recalls letter received from Roald Dahl 30 years ago

When Alison Wheeler was a librarian at Chantry library 30 years ago, she sent a letter with the summ

When Alison Wheeler was a librarian at Chantry library 30 years ago, she sent a letter with the summer reading club kids to Roald Dahl as it was BFG themes.Now with this year's reading challenge also BFG themed, Alison has found the letter. - Credit: Archant

“It is most unlikely. But – here comes the big ‘but’ – not impossible.”

Undated file photo of Roald Dahl. PA Photos

Undated file photo of Roald Dahl. PA Photos - Credit: PA

Roald Dahl may have penned that line in 1983 when he wrote The Witches, but it was a sentiment young librarian Alison Wheeler recalled three years later when she posted a group of letters written to the celebrated author by youngsters who took part in her summer reading club.

Alison’s faith paid off, and a charming reply with a specially-penned poem was the reward for the group just a handful of days later.

Now, in the year of what would have been Dahl’s 100th birthday and as the Steven Spielberg-directed BFG has been released in cinemas, the theme of this year’s Summer Reading Challenge is the Big Friendly Read.

“Thirty years ago I was a children’s librarian, and thought it would be really good fun to run a six-week holiday programme at Chantry, and picked the BFG as the theme,” said Alison, who is now chief executive of Suffolk Libraries.

The letter from Roald Dahl in 1986

The letter from Roald Dahl in 1986 - Credit: Archant

“We did activities around the BFG, read the book as a serial and wrote letters to Roald Dahl.

“To my absolute amazement we got this letter back – he was so popular and it is wonderful that 30 years later he is just as popular.”

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Dahl’s sweet reply, dated July 31, 1986, read: “Hello gorgeous Alison and all the clever children at THE “BFG” HOLIDAY CLUB. Thank you so much for sending me your lovely letters.

“As I grow old and just a trifle frayed,

“It’s nice to know that I have sometime made

“You children and occasionally the staff

“Stop work and have instead a little laugh.”

He then signed off the note “with love” and handwrote his name.

Alison kept the letter with a box of her library memories, and after the Reading Agency announced this year’s national Summer Reading Challenge would be inspired by the works of Roald Dahl, she looked back at the treasured response.

“I thought about the letter and it was buried in a box of library memorabilia,” she said.

“I spent 16 years as a children’s librarian and I loved that job. I also love the fact that our libraries continue to hold activities like this.”

The challenge was first launched in Suffolk in 1980 by Elizabeth Harrison, and every library in the county adopted it just a year later.

Each year 3,000-4,000 youngsters take part, soaking up literary wonders and letting their imaginations soar by reading as many books as possible – but already more than 6,300 have signed up this year as more and more youngsters discover the magic of Dahl’s fiction.

Alison added: “There is no doubt that the Summer Reading Challenge helps children in their reading skills. If you are reading because you like it you are more likely to get skilled at it, and it is one of the last things in this world that is still free.”

But perhaps the merits of reading for pleasure are best summed up by the inspirational author himself, who shared these lines in Matilda: “The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives.

“She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”

Were you part of the 1986 Summer Reading Challenge group at Chantry library? Did you send Roald Dahl a letter? Email your memories to newsroom@archant.co.uk

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